October 15, 2015
John Wright
John Wright
By Tony DiGiovanni CHT
Landscape Ontario executive director

When I was a horticulture student in 1975 (40 years ago), we used to attend the Pesticide Symposium and other Landscape Ontario events. Even though there were hundreds of people in attendance, there was one man who stood out because of his height, silver hair, warm caring smile and his gift for conversation. Even back then, it was very easy to be inspired by his contribution ethic.

John Wright would be totally engaged, introducing speakers, handing out nametags, greeting people and generally helping out with anything that needed doing. He was never shy. He always made everyone feel welcome and part of the family. Even as students, everyone knew who John Wright was.  

Years later, when I started working for Landscape Ontario, John Wright was one of the first members I met. At the time, he was Chair of the Lawn Care Group. His hair was a little more silver; you still had to look up when talking to him. He was still totally involved contributing his time, energy and resources in helping to build our industry and association.

Without a doubt, John Wright’s contribution ethic, welcoming smile and positive energy has helped to inspire hundreds (including me) and helped to build Landscape Ontario into the vibrant community it has become.   

John was very comfortable talking to anyone about the industry he loved...and just about everything else. His interests were very broad.  His wife Ruth once told me that he was a voracious reader. “He is passionate about everything. That same passion applies to his interest in his family, including his ancestors.”

In recognition of his lifetime contribution in 2007, Landscape Ontario bestowed on John its highest honour: Honorary Life Member. The award is reserved only for those members who have consistently contributed their time, passion, enthusiasm and energy over a period of many years (a lifetime) to further the mission of Landscape Ontario. I want to share with you a few lines of the script that was read out at the ceremony. 
“John Wright started with the association even before it became Landscape Ontario. In the 1960s, at the invitation of Don Salivan, John became involved with the Ontario Garden Maintenance and Landscape Association (OGMLA), one of the three founding organizations that in 1973 eventually became Landscape Ontario. It was the beginning of a lifetime of volunteer contributions. John and Paul Grobe served as co-chairs for expansion. When OGMLA was absorbed by Landscape Ontario, Paul and John continued in their expansion role and proposed the founding of the Waterloo Chapter. Glenn Peister, president at the time, suggested that instead they put their efforts into renewing the Hamilton Chapter.

“Once Hamilton was up and running they turned their sights toward Waterloo. In 1980, the Waterloo Chapter was born. John served as the first president. Both chapters are thriving to this day.

“John was also instrumental in starting the Lawn Care Commodity Group in the early 1980s. He was the first chair and held the position for over eight years.

“John has held many leadership positions and received many awards. He was on the provincial board of directors from 1977 to 1979. He received the Dunington-Grubb Award in 1988. He was honoured with a Past President Award in 1980 and again in 1999.

He once said that if he spent as much energy at his own business, as he did on Landscape Ontario work, he would be a multi-millionaire.”

His son Dave was asked to present the Award to John. The image of father and son embracing trying to hold back their tears will always be a warm memory etched in my mind. That magic moment was preserved in a video. I think it is on our website.

Approximately 10 years ago, John became the President of the Ontario Horticultural Trades Foundation — the research and scholarship arm of the association. His goal was to raise a million dollars. That goal was surpassed soon after he took the reins. John led by example. He started the Ruth and John Wright Scholarship Fund and urged others to start their own funds. Here is how he worded the appeal at the time.

“I donated $23,000 to the Ontario Horticultural Trades Foundation. Here is why.   

“I am thankful for the financial, environmental and aesthetic benefits this industry has bestowed on me, my family, friends and customers, and I believe it is important to contribute a small amount back to support the future members of the industry I love.   

“Not only will you be leaving a legacy of benefit, you will be recognized in perpetuity as a responsible leader who cares about the future.”  

This year the Foundation was able to distribute almost $60,000 in scholarships. Unfortunately John was too ill to attend that scholarship meeting. He would have been very proud.

John was a contributor to the end of his life. Even with laboured breathing, carrying an oxygen tank, he made it to meetings. When he became too ill, he even considered hosting a meeting at the nursing home. A couple of weeks ago we held a lawn care meeting without John. It felt empty. The first item on the agenda was to call John to wish him well. He was very appreciative.  

John will be missed, but his legacy will live on forever in those he has mentored, touched and inspired. When we sent out the notice for this memorial, I received a number of responses. Here are a few.  

Beth Edney wrote, “So sad to hear about John’s death. He had so much passion for our organization and our future. There will be a huge void at our events without him.”

Tim Kearney wrote, “What a kick in the teeth.”

Paul Brydges wrote, “I had always called John, Dad whenever we met and chatted.”

Lindsey Drake Nightingale said, “Such sad news. A good man. One that will be sorely missed.”  

I want to give the last word to Rohan Harrison, who wrote, “The end of a chapter...the beginning of a legacy.He will forever be remembered every time a young person is awarded a scholarship, every time we gather to discuss our industry, every time we meet.

Landscape Ontario and the industry have lost a true pioneer. A visionary and an exemplary professional that today and deep in the future we will always say, THANK YOU. Thank you, John.

He will be sadly missed, but we should mourn but not slumber, cry but always remember, he has run a good race and was victorious. Let’s celebrate him for who he was and always will be — A true champion to the landscape industry.

John Wright passed away on Aug. 24, 2015. The funeral service was held Aug. 27 at Koinonia Christian Fellowship in Bloomingdale.